Carpet-geddon: Or What I Did On My Summer Vacation

(Just kidding–I’m a 12-month employee I don’t get a summer vacation…but that’s another blog post, right?)

The saying “be careful what you wish for” was never far from my mind this summer when we embarked on the enormous job of replacing all of the carpets in our library. Full of rips, stains, and areas worn so thin you could feel/see the concrete underneath, we desperately needed it, and we had been trying to get it done for more than five years. At around 20,000 square feet and with more than 25,000 books in mostly full-sized, six-shelf stacks we went in knowing it would not be easy, and with the job finally in my rearview mirror, I can say “easy” never entered the picture. I’ve thought a lot about what went right, what went wrong, and what we could have done better and I share some of those ideas with you in case your library ever heads down this road.

One thing we got right was hiring professional movers to assist with the work. When it came to moving the furniture we could not have done it without them. On the flip side, we also trusted them to take the books off the shelves and put them back, which was a huge mistake. Even with assurances that they knew what they were doing, that they were writing things down and taking pictures, it was an enormous disaster beyond explanation. The books were so haphazardly replaced that my staff and I ended up needing to take basically every single book back off the shelf, reorganize, and then reshelve. It took weeks. 

Another thing we got right was separating the library into several spaces, and dealing with them one at a time. This enabled us to move things from one space to the other as the carpet people finished areas and began others. This process stalled us out a few times, but I’m glad that we did it as it contained the worst of the chaos to one area at a time.

And — thank goodness we began as soon as possible when school ended. Both the carpet company and the movers thought the entire job would take two to three weeks. It took eight weeks, and even then we were still trying to get the books straightened out. 

So, what other advice do I send out into the library-verse?

Hire movers, but deal with the books yourself. 

The only room that went well was the room we emptied of books ourselves using carts and placing the books onto tables in a room that had already been finished. Two of us managed to move more than 3000 books this way, and they stayed in order and went back up the same way. The movers had large, multi-shelved carts that they used to store the books while they moved the empty bookcases. If I did this again, I would borrow the movers’ carts, but do the books ourselves. 

Take a lot of pictures and notes before you move anything.

You think you know your library inside and out, but when you are staring at a completely empty space where there are normally 12 bookcases and they want to know where everything goes…trust me, it is not so easy. We found ourselves asking each other: “Did we use the bottom shelf in that section?” “Were there five shelves or six here?” “Is that really how the shelves were spaced?” “Are the endcap signs right?” Take pictures of every room and bookcase, measure where all the furniture is, and take notes about everything.

 Appoint a project manager who will be there and take responsibility.

I guess we had a project manager? At least there was someone on our maintenance team who was supposed to be “in charge” and to “check in”, but he was never in the library because he was busy working his job. Meanwhile, I was there all day every day, but very rarely did the movers or carpet people come to me with issues or questions — even when I inserted myself into situations. Whether this was pure sexism or because no one told them I was in charge I will never know, but in retrospect, I should have insisted that the bosses from both teams told them I was the project manager. More communication between all of the players definitely would have made the project go smoother.

Be prepared to pivot.

Obviously, a large job like this is going to encounter issues, and some things won’t go as planned. I wanted to move some stacks that in the end I could not (electrical issues — but that’s another story), so we did something else instead. When it was clear the movers were not handling the books well, we stepped in and did some of the work ourselves. This may sound like common sense, but when you’re in the heat of the process it’s easy to forget the basics.

The end of the story is that we have new carpet. It may not be gorgeous (is any industrial carpeting gorgeous?), but it is clean, not ripped up, not buckling in places where people can trip on it, and did I say clean? If any of you plan on embarking on this project in the near future don’t hesitate to reach out for more details.

A Few of Our Favorite Things…This Year

We all know the end of the year comes at us like a freight train. Tracking down AWOL borrowers, those last-minute final projects, unruly seniors (or 8th graders), and end-of-year malaise often leaves very little time for reflection. This year more than ever as we stumbled toward some sense of normalcy after the Covid-centric year of 2020-21, looking at what’s working and what’s not feels important. I’m not talking about the big picture goals I discussed in my last post — I’m talking about the small, everyday changes that make a difference in our crazy library world. Sometimes those small things can mean the difference between sanity and losing it. Here are some smallish things we tried this year that had a large impact.

Furniture —Go With the Flow

I don’t know about you, but our students love to move the furniture around. We used to let it drive us up a wall — yelling at students to move things back, spending enormous amounts of time pushing things back to the “right place”, and really just allowing it to rule large parts of the day and evening. This year, we tried a different strategy. We let go of our preconceived floor layout and began the year with some furniture in the “wrong” locations. For example, they love to have two of our cozy chairs smushed together in the window even though they barely fit. We preemptively put them that way, and guess what? No one has moved those chairs all year. 

In the conversation areas of the library, when they pushed tables together to make one long one we left it like that. When they pulled them apart, we left it like that. At the end of the day, we still straighten chairs, etc., but we do not waste time moving tables, and like the chairs, now they hardly get moved anymore. Having no “right” place and giving students the freedom to rearrange has lowered our aggravation factor enormously.

No More Electronics!

We stopped loaning most of our electronics during Covid — mainly laptops and computer chargers. Before the start of the school year, we had a long discussion with our IT department about bringing these items back. We are a bring-your-own-device school, and somehow students (and faculty) managed through the entire 2020-21 year without any electronic borrowing from us. Why would we need to change that? Prior to Covid when we had 20 laptops and 6-8 miscellaneous chargers, we spent hours every week tracking them down. The chargers weren’t supposed to leave the building, and the laptops were only for daily loans, but somehow that never happened. Things went days or even weeks without being returned, and getting them back was almost a full-time job. 

So IT gave us a handful of emergency laptops for situations when students were actually having a problem that did not involve leaving their laptop in their room because they were too lazy to put it in their backpack, and we continued with our Covid-inspired policy of not loaning chargers. It’s been great. Once students realized that we did not have them, they brought theirs. Shocking! I know I will probably get some flack that we should provide items that students need, but I think when a task’s pain-in-the-neck factor for staff far outweighs its benefit, making a change is warranted.  

“Virtually” Any Time

So many of us discovered a lot of resources and applications during Covid that continue to make our jobs easier. Two things we started using that I will not give up are Calendly and Zoom. I love Calendly because many students are just not comfortable approaching the desk to ask for help. My Calendly link on our portal page allows students to easily make an appointment with me, and the bonus — I get the heads up about the subject of the meeting. Most students still just come up to the desk, but for those who need a quieter way to reach out, Calendly works great. 

We have night staff for academic support, but sometimes no one knows an assignment or a student like I do. Zoom allows me to meet with students from the comfort of my home during study hours when I am normally not at school. As we reach year three of the virus, I know Zoom sometimes gets a bad rap, but as a faculty member who lives off-campus, it has been a godsend. It allows me to connect with students when they need me most — during their evening study hours.

With those thoughts — here’s hoping for a peaceful end of the year, a restful summer, and a healthy 2022-23 school year for everyone.

They Made Me Set Goals…And I Liked It

I don’t like affirmations, setting intentions, mindfulness, meditation. I’m that person sneaking out of the yoga class before savasana. I understand the benefits of these things and if they work for you  — great  — but I think I’m just not built that way. So when our school designed a new performance evaluation plan that used goal setting as a piece of the process, I groaned. I’m sure it’s no surprise at this point that I’ve always struggled with setting goals  — both personally and professionally…goal-setting might not be meditation, but it feels a bit meditation-adjacent. How was I going to not only set goals for myself, but for my department that acquiesced with the library staff and their goals?

I began with our mission statement which we had recently revamped to more accurately reflect our current purpose within the school. Goals, right? So, where were we most lacking when I looked at the aspirations of the mission? I chose three places that I thought we needed the most work: our collection, our place within the academic program, and our building. I spent some time discussing these ideas with the two other full-time employees at the library — one librarian and one administrative staff. Were these the biggest issues? Did they reflect properly on the mission? Did they coordinate with our personal goals?  We all agreed that focusing on these three areas felt correct.

We quickly realized that within each area — collection, program, and building — objectives fell along a continuum that ranged from smaller things that were in our control up to larger items that depended on money, other people, or administrative decisions. I decided to number our goals from most easily achieved to those really out of our control listing three to five goals within each area. This earmarks the document as both a realistic list of tasks, but also an aspirational look to the future with no barriers. Listing the achievable items first helps with morale as we look back throughout the year, but I also envision being able to highlight the items that fester on future documents as an important record for the future. We all hear stories about what previous directors and staff tried to do, but seeing unreached goals in black and white (potentially year after year!) is much more persuasive than an anecdote.

I also chose to include the full-time library employees’ personal goals as part of the same document. It is important to me that our goals stay front and center within the library goals, and that the two lists make sense together. The goals don’t have to coincide perfectly, but they should certainly work towards a similar outcome. For example, my personal goal of continuing my DEI education doesn’t specifically appear anywhere in the library goals this year, but it obviously helps improve our collection and programming. I made sure my full-time colleagues agreed to have their personal goals listed on the document before including them. 

So, I typed this all up and sent it off to the powers that be and after initial positive responses…I have heard nothing else. But I really don’t care. Even without any input or feedback from higher-ups, this was still a very productive exercise for me — one I plan to continue. I try to look through the document at least once a month, and every time I do, I am reminded of that fresh, September can-do attitude, and I see where we stand against this list of goals. What have we accomplished? What can we still get done? It is a black and white road map of what we thought we could accomplish at the beginning of the year, and what we have managed to achieve. For reference, I am attaching a copy of our 2021-22 Library Goals without the personal goals and with some comments and other school-specific items removed. As a newly converted goal-setter, I am happy to answer any questions or discuss our process further.